Sixty years and 242 437 lives later, Hiroshima remembers

As they lay dying amid the ruins of their city, the victims of the Hiroshima bomb craved one thing above all — water. On Saturday morning cups of water were brought as symbolic offerings as, 60 years to the day after the city was vapourised, Hiroshima remembered its dead.

At 8.15 am, the exact moment the bomb exploded 600m above the city in 1945, the 55 000 packed into the peace memorial park bowed their heads in honour of the 240 000 who died. Passengers on streetcars fell silent, a temple bell tolled and a thousand doves were released into the skies from which the horror had fallen. Peace activists held a ”die-in” at the A-bomb dome, the remains of a local government trade promotion office near the centre of the blast.

The ceremony began with the addition to the cenotaph of the names of the 5 375 people who died in the past year. The total now stands at 242 437.

Hiroshima’s mayor, Tadatoshi Akiba, said the day was a ”time of inheritance, of awakening and of commitment, in which we inherit the commitment of the hibakusha [A-bomb survivors] to the abolition of nuclear weapons and recommit ourselves to take action.”

But that commitment has produced few results. In the days leading up to the anniversary, negotiators from the US, Japan, China, Russia and South Korea were fighting a losing battle to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme, and on Saturday Iran rejected the EU’s proposal for ending the stand-off over its own nuclear programme.

Even in Japan, the message from Hiroshima is becoming marginalised as the events of 60 years ago lose their resonance — the number of visitors to the peace park has dropped significantly in the past 15 years.

In a low-key address, Junichiro Koizumi, Japan’s most hawkish Prime Minister for years, paid tribute to the victims. But his LDP colleague Yohei Kono, a former Foreign Minister, said the anniversary was a reminder that Japan should never revisit its militarist past. ”We made a mistake in choosing our path in Asia and followed a road to war,” Kono said. ”We took away the independence of Korea and we intervened in China using the military. One of the results of fighting against the international community was the dropping of the atomic bomb.”

About 40 000 people in Hiroshima died instantly when the B-29 Enola Gay dropped ”Little Boy” (by the end of 1945, another 100 000 had died). Three days later, a plutonium bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing 80 000. – Guardian Unlimited Â

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